After Bihar Mumbai, now Delhi is also prone to floods

After Bihar Mumbai, now Delhi is also prone to floods

The water level of the Yamuna river is continuously increasing.

After the continuous release of water from the Hathni Kund barrage of Haryana on the Yamuna river spate, once again danger marks are being seen in Delhi. The water level in the Yamuna is rising very fast and continuously. The water level near danger mark in the Yamuna: Water level in Abzhi Yamuna is flowing above 205.17 m: Warning level: the Yamuna near danger mark 205.33 m. Although the Yamuna river is still flowing above the danger mark, it is very close to the danger mark: Water can fill the low-lying areas around Delhi as it has been raining continuously since morning, it is cloudy. The Meteorological Department has issued an orange alert for these areas.

Yamuna’s water level.

Yamuna’s water level is 205.17 meters
Warning water level 204.50 meters.
Danger water level 205.33 meters.

If we see these figures, then we will know that the Yamuna is just a little far from the danger mark: As it is raining heavily on the hilly areas, due to which the Yamuna river is in spate: Yesterday, about 1 lakh 59 thousand percent water was released from Hathni Barrage Kund of Haryana. Since then there is a significant increase in the water level of Yamuna, although the government has ordered the people of the previous areas to go up.

Because of the way water is being released continuously from Haryana’s Hathni Kund barrage, the way the water level of Yamuna is increasing. So it will take another 48 hours to come, due to which the water level of Yamuna can cross the danger mark. And this will cause a lot of trouble to the people living in low-lying areas.

Overburdened drainage, frenzied and unregulated construction, buildings constructed without paying any heed to the natural topography, and hydro-geomorphology all add to the damage. This makes urban floods easily more of a man-made disaster.

With the rapid urban expansion, builders have been constructing increasingly on reclaimed wetlands, flood plains, and low lands of the city as these areas have a cheaper land rate. What is surprising, though, is that not just private builders, the government too, is building over such vulnerable areas.

Overlooking environmental regulations in mega-projects is fairly common in the country. Back in the 2000s, Delhi’s Akshardham Temple Complex and Commonwealth Games Village (CWG) were built right on the Yamuna’s floodplain.

The secondary runway of Chennai International Airport was also built right over the Adyar river. Most of the airport was constructed on the riverine floodplains, leading to massive flooding during the 2015 Chennai floods.

Even recent developments such as Andhra Pradesh’s Amaravati Capital City Project had major areas proposed to be built on the floodplains of the Krishna river.

Who is most vulnerable?

When a city starts flooding after intense rainfall, the focus is on the breakdown of public services, the closing of schools, and difficulty in transportation, among others. While these problems bring the city to a halt and make news for a few days, what is missed is the focus on who gets the worst hit and how?

Mumbai, for instance, is often referred to as a prime example when it comes to discussing urban floods in India. A United Nations Habitat paper on monsoon floods in Mumbai mentions that even after 10 days of intense rainfall, the suburban and low-lying areas near the Mithi river remain waterlogged without services, appropriate shelter, potable water, or food.

This area is estimated to have 70 percent occupancy by slums and pavement dwellers, including one of the largest slums in the world — Dharavi.

In any city, the low-lying regions like Dallas, railway lines, roads, and highways — where squatter settlements pop-up — are the areas, which are most prone to flooding. Built uninformedly and with makeshift materials, many people lose their residence with recurring floods, which never get accounted for.

This is typically the case in Delhi’s Yamuna Pushta area — the same floodplain region where Akshardham and CWG Village have been built — where slum areas flood almost every year now.

We do not realize yet that the vulnerability of the poor to the changing climate is profound and lingering in our cities. Floodwaters circulate untreated solid waste and fecal matter around squatter settlements, which leads to outbreaks of malaria, dengue, diarrhea, etc for a much longer time than the season of rainfall.

There has been a 217 percent increase in the incidence of malaria during the last decade, according to a report published by the World Bank. It identified unhygienic living conditions in slums and water accumulation during and after monsoons as the leading factors.

Lack of discernment in development adds to this vulnerability of the poor. During the 2015 Chennai floods, some of the worst impacted areas were slum resettlement tenements constructed by the government on floodplains or lake catchment areas at Semmencheri, Perumbakkam, and Ezhilnagar. These areas faced severe flooding, causing some deaths, and remained inhabitable for many days afterward.

Who is responsible?

The fact is that our cities have been built with little to no regard for the natural topography and severely lack holistic action. Even with provisions of rainwater harvesting, sustainable urban drainage systems, etc, in regulatory mechanisms like the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Notification 2006, or building bylaws of almost every state, adoption at user end as well as enforcement agencies remains weak.

Public bodies’ focus is largely on de-silting of stormwater drains before monsoon and expansion of the over-burdened infrastructure, but at a crawling pace.

The recurrent urban flooding in Mumbai is a prime example of this lagged response by the government. The major factor is the city’s old drainage system, which is heavily silted and damaged.

The outfall from stormwater drains to the sea is affected by high tides as 42 out of 45 outfalls lack flood gates, claims a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, tabled in the Maharashtra state assembly, early this year.

While there have been multiple plans and proposals to update Mumbai’s stormwater disposal system, no conclusion has arrived at it yet.

The BRIMSTOWAD (Brihanmumbai Storm Water Disposal System) project, proposed in 1993, was intended to be a long-term roadmap for the city’s vulnerability to flooding; but no action was taken on it till the major flooding of 2005. The system has not been fully updated yet.

Cities like Mumbai struggle with the inadequate urban infrastructure problem, as they have grown organically, and need to constantly adapt to emerging demands.

But, it is disheartening to see that newer cities like Gurugram, have been terribly uniform. It takes only one seasonal downpour to bring the city to a standstill.

Gurugram has seen explosive growth in the urban population as well as infrastructure in recent years. As a result of poor planning, unregulated construction, and mismanagement of environmental resources, water reservoirs and wetlands have vanished over the years.

The number of water bodies has reduced to 123 in 2018 from 644 in 1956. Green cover is only 9 percent, which ideally should have been at least 33 percent.

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